[Book] In the Cause of Labour - A History of British Trade Unionism

There are many narrative histories of the struggles of British workers. However, Rob Sewell’s book is different. This book is aimed especially at class-conscious workers who are seeking to escape from the ills of the capitalist system, that has embroiled the world in a quagmire of wars, poverty and suffering. This history of trade unions is particularly relevant at the present time. After a long period of stagnation, the fresh winds of the class struggle are beginning to blow.

Rob Sewell’s book was written precisely with these new forces in mind.

The British labour movement is the oldest in the world. More than two hundred years ago, the pioneers of the movement created illegal revolutionary trade unions in the face of the most terrible violence and repression.

In the Cause of Labour - A History of British Trade Unionism
Available from Wellred here
In the course of the nineteenth century they built trade unions of the downtrodden unskilled workers – those with “blistered hands and the unshorn chins,” as Feargus O’Connor called them. Finally, they established a mass party of Labour based on the trade unions, breaking the monopoly of the Tories and Liberals. In the stormy years following the Russian Revolution they engaged in ferocious class battles, culminating in the General Strike of 1926.

Nor did the achievements of the British trade union movement cease with the Depression and the Second World War. The post-war upswing served to strengthen the working class and heal the scars of the inter-war period. By the time of the industrial tidal wave of the early 1970s, they drove a Tory government from power, after turning Edward Heath’s anti-trade union laws into a dead letter. Later, the miners, the traditional vanguard of the British working class, waged an epic year-long struggle in 1984-85 against the juggernaut of Thatcherism. They could have succeeded, had the rightwing Labour and trade union leaders not abandoned them and left them isolated.

The book contains vital lessons and is essential reading for today’s worker militants. The foreword is written by Jeremy Dear, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists and member of the General Council of the TUC (personal capacity).

Table of Contents

  1. The Birth Pains
    The Class Divide
    Child Labour
  2. Into the Abyss of Capitalism
    Anti-union Terror
    Unsung Herdes
    Peterloo Massacre
  3. Schools of War
    “Captain Swing”
    The Grand National
  4. Breaking the yoke
    The Newport Rising
    The “Plug Plot”
    The Demise
  5. The “Pompous Trades”
    New Model Unions
    Marx and the First International
    Impact in Britain
    The Trade Union Congress
    Vicious circle
  6. From a Spark to a Blaze
    From a Spark
    New Unionism Under Attack
  7. “The First Giant Step”
    Mass Movements
    Independent Representation
    The Breakthrough
    Victory Grayson
  8. The Great Unrest
    Strikes Spread
    “Rank and Fileism”
  9. War and Revolution
    Voices Stifled
    Revolutionary Objectives
    Electrifying effect
    General Election
  10. On the Brink of Revolution
    The Triple Alliance
    Soviet Support
  11. “Black Friday”
    Lenin on Britain
    Employers’ Offensive
    The Political front
  12. “Bayonets don’t cut coal”
    The Minority Movement
    Royal Comission
  13. “Nine Days That Shook The World”
    Scarcely a wheel turns
    Unstoppable wave
    Stand firm!
    The Betrayal
    Next time
  14. “Never Again”
    Coal Crisis Report
  15. “Road to Wigan Pier”
    American Labour
    Consequences of 1931
    Popular Frontism
    Witch-Hunt
  16. “Labour in the War”
    Integral Part
    June 1941
  17. Post War Dreams
    Gradual Approach
    National Debts
    The Cold War
    Cold War
  18. Business (Unionism) as usual
    The Blue Union
    ETU Trial
    Clause Four
  19. In Place of Strife
    Wage Restraint
    Economic Difficulties
    In Place of Strife
    Discontent grows
    Pilkington
  20. “Close the Gates!”
    State of emergency
    1972 Miners’ Strike
    Saltley Gate
  21. The Road to Pentonville
    Pentonville Five
    Shrewsbury trial
  22. The Turning Point
    Ulster workers council
    Paramilitary solutions
    Wage Restraint
    Winter of Discontent
  23. Preparing the Class War
    Premature confrontation
    Flexible rostering
    The Falklands War
    Warrington dispute
  24. “The Enemy Within”
    Nottingham
    The Ballot
    The Orgreave
    Dock strikes
    Propaganda offensive
    Action not words
  25. Aftermath of Defeat
    The Defeats
    1987 General election
    Driven out
  26. “Ignorance is Strength”
    “Counter-revolution”
    Rover
    Fruits of “New Realism”
  27. Blairism and the Unions
    General Ebb
    The “project”
    Coalition Government
    Almighty row
  28. The Class Divide Grows
    Privatisation Disaster
    Double-speak
  29. Militancy is back!
    The pendulum
    Jackson’s defeat
    General Council
  30. Should the unions disaffiliate?
    Keynesianism Abandoned
    National Government
    Justifiably angry
    Accountability
    Mass organisations
    Words into deeds
  31. Future of the Unions
    “Partnership”
    Transformation
    Explosive situation
  32. The New View of Society